A Tight-Knit Family unravels- a review of “Falsettos”

By Michael Buzzelli

In 1979, on the steep precipice of the 80s, Marvin (Chad Elder) leaves his wife, Trina (Jenna Kantor) and their son, Jason (Matthew Frontz) to be with his lover, Whizzer (Sal Bucci), exploding-and- then-reinventing his own high-strung, tight-knit family in “Falsettos.”

Marvin wants to have it all, his lover, his wife and his son.  While Trina is a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown unable to cope with the fact that her husband left her for a man.

Marvin convinces his wife to see his psychiatrist Mendel (Justin Borak), and sparks fly between his ex-wife and the doctor.  Because Jason is having difficulty dealing with his father’s abrupt departure, they convince the boy to see Mendel. Soon, Mendel is part of the family, driving Marvin into a jealous rage. It’s unreasonable, but it’s very human.

The one thing Marvin and Trina can agree on is that they want Jason to have his bar mitzvah, but the boy would rather sit up in his room and play chess by himself.

Later, we meet the lesbians next door, Dr. Charlotte (Natalie Hatcher) and her partner, Cordelia (Lindsay Bayer) just as an unknown virus begins killing ‘bachelors’ in New York City.

When Whizzer collapses on the racquetball court and is rushed to the hospital, the AIDS storyline kicks in full throttle. Jason doesn’t want to have his bar mitzvah without Whizzer, but he might have to go from reciting the Torah to learning Kaddish.

Spoiler alert: Mirrors will be covered.

Chad Elder as Marvin (seated) and Sal Bucci as Whizzer (standing).

The cast of Front Porch Theatrical’s “Falsettos” is exceptional. In 80s parlance, they are rad, gnarly and totally tubular!

Elder steps up to be the leading man here, belting his heart out in ballads, but it’s his soft, poignant rendition of “What more can I say,” that caused audience members to pull out their handkerchief’s and Valu-Pack Kleenex.

Kantor’s “I’m breaking down” is a moment of pure joy. A triumph! Her character runs through a gamut of conflicting emotions breaking down while cooking her Carrot-Banana Surprise (which sounds heinous by the way).

Side note: Bananas were harmed in the making of this song, but Trina is as much of a mushy mess as the yellow fruit by the end of the song.

Bucci is the quintessential Whizzer. He exemplifies the late-70s unrepentant “homo,” complete with a period-appropriate moustache.  He commanded the stage with charismatic energy.

Frontz is a tiny star-in-the-making. The sixth-grader holds his own next to his incredibly talented castmates.

Borak does an exceptional job as well.

The one thing this show needs is more Hatcher and Bayer. Their characters don’t enter the show until the second act, but they manage to become so essential to the plot and story, you begin to forget they weren’t around in the first act.

During the curtain speech, co-producer Nancy Zionts said, “You won’t believe you’re watching local theater,” and this reviewer folded his arms and went, “Yeah, right.” Words I ate by the final curtain.

Director Rob James gets everything right about this show. The sensitivity of the subject matter, the drama, the wit. It was masterful.

Johnmichael Bohach’s set is an homage to Cosmo Kramer’s “Levels!” The tiered stage gives characters plenty of space to spazz out and sing in.

The full cast of “Falsettos” Standing from left to right; Natalie Hatcher, Chad Elder and Sal Bucci. Seated from left to right; Lindsay Bayer, Jenna Kantor and Justin Borak with Matthew Frontz on the ground, looking up.

There is also an amazing band under the direction of Deana Muro.

Note: “Falsettos” is a very Jewish, very gay play. If you admire Ron DeSantis, this is not the musical for you. There is a steamy tango between the two male lovers, and a shocking moment of domestic violence. While some would advise parental guidance, there is a point to be made against keeping the kids at home, especially if you have a queer-or-questioning child in your own tight-knit family.  They may feel “seen” and it could be a moment of revelation.

Use your best judgement.

At its core, “Falsettos” has a lot to say on a myriad of subjects, but they are all handled deftly by show’s creators William Finn and James Lapine.

What more can I say? It’s hot! It’s sweet! And the entire cast sparkles.

– MB

“Falsettos” runs from May 19 to May 28 at the New Hazlett Theater located at 6 Allegheny Square East Pittsburgh, PA 15212. For more information, click here.   

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